Hard Times Questions and Answers Marks 5

Hard Times Questions and Answers Marks 5

1. Why is it significant for the novel to open in the classroom of Facts and conclude in the circus of Fancy?[Hard Times]

When Dickens begins the novel by describing the classroom at Gradgrind’s school, stating that “the scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom”, he satirizes the schoolroom by calling it a vault, which is an allusion to a catacomb or a grave. As stated above, this classroom has been intentionally created as a factory with the purpose to produce future industrial workers. The education at the school is ruled by the idea of Utilitarian theories, which Gradgrind believes in as a method of teaching children: These ideas can be broadly labelled as Utilitarianism and Political Economy. Strictly speaking, the two concepts are not synonymous, but they are closely related and for Dickens they came to the same thing in the end.

Utilitarianism was the brainchild of Jeremy Bentham, a personally eccentric philosopher and social reformer who held that virtue was a matter of utility: an action was good if it helped to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number. This education robbed the children of their innocence and their souls of imagination.

Dickens depicts mass education and how it suppresses those the school should help be creative and imaginative. Dickens depicts the classroom as an inhuman world that also exists outside the school. The classroom is arranged like a factory with the purpose of producing future workers. “For, the boys and the girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval”. The children are not allowed to stimulate their fancy, and in this chapter Mr. Gradgrind is sarcastic and mean towards Sissy, who embodies Victorian femininity, composed of kindness and sensibility . He says to her: “You are never to fancy”, when she says she is fond of flowers on carpets, admitting that: “They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy -“. The teacher at the school says: “You do not walk upon flowers in fact; … You must use, for all these purposes, combinations and modifications … of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste”.

Education that emphasizes facts and tries to eliminate fancy, is a justification to get rid of fancy and imagination in children, and is like the heading of the chapter indicates, an attempt to kill the imagination and fancy of children.

– 2. “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing will ever be of any service to them.” – Comment.


These are the novel’s opening lines. Spoken by Mr. Gradgrind, they philosophy. In claiming that “nothing else will ever be of service” to his pupils, Gradgrind reveals his belief that facts are important because they enable individuals to further their own interests. However, Tom and Louisa’s unhappy childhood soon calls into question their father’s claim that “[f]acts alone are wanted in life.” Ironically, while Gradgrind refers to the pupils in his school as “reasoning animals” and compares their minds to fertile soil in which facts can be sowed, he treats them like machines by depriving them of feeling and fantasy. His jarringly short sentences and monotonous repetition of the word “Fact” illustrate his own mechanical, unemotional character. Finally, it is significant that Gradgrind’s call for facts opens a work of fiction. By drawing attention to the fact that we are reading fiction, Dickens suggests to us that facts alone cannot bring intellectual pleasure.


3. How does the Coketown system work and who is at the peak of it?

The Coketown system is the factory system. This arose during the Industrial Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, so most factory settlements like Coketown were only a few decades old when Hard Times was written. The factories were highly mechanized and used industrial methods such as division of labor to mass-produce goods efficiently. There were a few mechanics and other skilled workers, but the use of machines meant that most workers could be unskilled. They were generally poorly paid and sometimes very This is how Coketown operates.

Factories were very large buildings, equipped with expensive employing hundreds of workers. This meant that the men who owned them had to be very wealthy. They would, of course, quickly become richer if their factories were successful. Josiah Bounderby is at the peak of the factory system in Coketown. Bounderby is continually boasting that he is a self-made-man, which is to say that he was born poor and made his fortune by his own efforts. We learn at the end of the book that this is not true. Dickens a general myth here. Factory-owners were certainly not members of the young.


Throughout the book, the grime, the noise, and the poverty of Coketown are continually stressed. Some real-life factory owners made efforts to provide more cívilized living conditions for their workers. Sir Titus Salt at Saltaire and Lord Leverhulme at Port Sunlight built model communities with concert halls and art galleries. Mr. Gradgrind, who has retired from business and devoted himself to philanthropy, has ideas of this kind, though he pursues them in a wrong-headed and unsympathetic manner. Dickens satirizes both Bounderby and Gradgrind, but it is clear by the end of the story that Gradgrind’s vision for Coketown is not nearly as bad as Bounderby’s and needs only a more humane attitude to make it tolerable.

4. “It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but not all the calculators of the National debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions.” Explain.

This passage, from Book the First, Chapter 11, provides insight into the narrator’s beliefs and opinions. Dickens’s omniscient narrator assumes the role of a moral guide, and his opinion tends to shape our own interpretations of the story. Here, we learn that the narrator disagrees with Gradgrind, believing instead that human nature cannot be reduced to a bundle of facts and scientific principles. The narrator invokes the mystery of the human mind, pointing out how little we actually know about what motivates the actions of our fellow beings. The “quiet servants” to whom the narrator refers are the factory Hands. In representing these people as an unknown quantity, the narrator counteracts Bounderby’s stereotypes of the poor as lazy, greedy good-for-nothing. While he suggests that we need to understand these people better, the narrator also implies that this knowledge cannot be attained through calculation, measurement, and/or the accumulation of fact.

The language of Hard Times, like everything else in the novel, exemplifies Dickens’s attack on Utilitarian thinking. Jeremy Bentham considered language valuable only to the extent that it was denotative: one word to signify one fact. Poetry or other allusive language was dishonest. Bentham’s attitude is, of course, represented in the novel by Gradgrind and Bounderby, who insist on denotative meanings at all times. Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus horse rider, is flummoxed by Mr. Gradgrind’s request for a definition of a horse, which is given by Bitzer: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twentyfour grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive…. Age known by marks in mouth. Thus (and much more) Bitzer”. Sissy is told that now she knows what a horse is. Mr. Bounderby also congratulates himself on insisting on a direct relation between object and name, telling the guests at his wedding that they “won’t expect a speech from a man who, when he sees a Post, says ‘that’s a Post, and when he sees a Pump, says ‘that’s a Pump, and is not to be got to call a Post a Pump, or a Pump a Post, or either of them a Toothpick”.

5. What stylistic and literary devices are used by Dickens in Hard Times?

Contrasting Utilitarian denotative language is the highly allusive language of the circus performers, epitomized in Mr. Sleary, whose lisp (“slurring” speech) makes his speech even more imprecise. The circus people stay at the Pegasus’s Arms, whose sign depicts a winged horse (impossible in Utilitarian terms) inscribed with a flowing scroll and extended into the bar by another , more theatrical, representation of Pegasus, but a theatrical one “with real gauze let in for his wings, golden stars stuck on all over him, and his ethereal harness made of red silk” (36). Dickens counters Utilitarian exactness of speech also in his use of alternative methods of communication to suggest different attitudes to language. Sissy and Rachael, the moral centers of the novel, rely largely on wordless communication, the language of the heart that reveals the importance of what is not said. When Sissy is told of Louisa’s engagement to Bounderby, she says nothing, but looks “in wonder, in pity, in sorrow, in doubt, in a multitude of emotions, towards Louisa”, who understands (but resents) Sissy’s compassion without having to look at her. Mr. Gradgrind, in his blind adherence to facts, fails to read his daughter’s body language and cannot understand the nuances of her spoken words. When she tells him that he has trained her so well that she has “never dreamed a child’s dream” nor had a “child’s belief or a child’s fear”, Gradgrind fails to hear the criticism in her tone and takes her comment as praise for his system.

The language of gesture-antithesis of denotative spoken language—is cleverly invoked in the scene in which Harthouse subtly wins over the whelp, Tom Gradgrind. Harthouse’s disingenuous remarks usually appear in reported rather than direct speech in a kind of dramatic irony that is clear to the reader but not to the character. (“If anything could have exalted Jem’s interest in Mr. Bounderby, it would have been this very circumstance. Or, so he told him” (168]). The reader sees rather than hears Harthouse’s duplicity. Tom fails to read Harthouse’s body language when the older man lounges at the fireplace, smoking and playing Tom with drinks; but Harthouse and the reader read Tom’s grovelling admiration for the suave visitor in Tom’s attempts to be equally sophisticated: Tom had by this time got both his legs on the sofa. If his second leg had not been already there when he was called a dear fellow, he would have put it up at that great stage of the conversation. Feeling it necessary to do something then, he stretched himself out at greater length, and reclining with the back of his head on the end of the sofa, and smoking with an infinite assumption of negligence, turned his common face, and not too sober eyes, towards the face looking down upon him so carelessly yet so potently. compassionate gestures of

Dickens’s point in drawing attention to both the unspoken Rachael and Sissy and the unintentionally revealing body language of Tom is that the human psyche is complex and not subject to denotative measure; the subtleties of human motivation and communication cannot and must not be reduced to facts and figures. Dickens has been criticized for lack of consistency in the use of language in the novel because he employs metaphor and imaginative language to describe the Utilitarians and the inhuman factories and looms of Coketown. Again, such description is clearly deliberate in revealing that even Utilitarians have unfathomable depths that can never be measured and imaginative cores that need to be nurtured. With Bitzer as a possible exception, the novel stresses that Utilitarianism twists the human out of shape but can never destroy it. So Gradgrind is immediately described in highly imaginative terms: His bald head is “covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse room for the hard facts stored inside”. The image suggests that his head is ready to burst not just with facts, but with human potential.

Throughout the novel, fancy constantly bursts through, like the fire that breaks out in Mhe chimneys of Coketown and in Louisa’s heart. Dickens’s characteristic use of metaphor and personification is also evident in the novel . Gradgrind’s neckcloth is “trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was”. Coketown is evoked in vivid images connected with hell: unnatural red and black, serpents of smoke coiling from the chimneys, poisonous fumes that shut out the natural light of Heaven (as they do in John Ruskin’s 1884 essay “The StormCloud of the NineteenthCentury’). The town and the factories are frequently described in fairy-tale metaphors because anywhere that human beings toil and suffer (as Stephen does) has the potential for transformation. In calling the factories “Fairy palaces” when they “burst into illumination” in the darkness before dawn, and the pistons of the steam-engine “melancholy mad elephants”, Dickens is not inconsistent; rather , he is fulfilling the promise of his Household Words dictum that he will “teach the hardest workers at this whirling wheel of toil, that their lot is not necessarily a moody, brutal fact, excluded from the sympathies and graces of imagination.”

Denotative language is reserved for the Utilitarians when they attempt to reduce humanity to mechanical and measurable beings; thus, the workmen become “hands,” recognized only for the part of them that does the work and ignoring their hearts and spirits; schoolchildren become numbers in Mr. M’Choakumchild’s classroom.

Mrs. Gradgrind’s language reveals that she has been reduced to a shadow by some “weighty piece of fact” constantly dropping upon her. She has no vitality, no human spark at all, and Dickens’s simile for her is that she is like a transparency (or a picture painted on material) with too feeble a light behind it. The image recalls the shaft of sunlight that deepens Sissy’s lustrous color but washes out Bitzer’s whiteness even more. But Mrs. Gradgrind also reveals the human potential that Utilitarianism denies; she feebly fights her husband’s system, but she lacks the physical strength to communicate by gesture and the mental strength to communicate by word. On her deathbed, she tries to tell Louisa that Mr. Gradgrind’s system was not enough, that there was “something—not an Ology at allthat your father has missed, or forgotten”, and she wants to name it and write it down because she has been led to believe that all knowledge is denotative and can be named. Mr. Gradgrind would have it so, but Dickens’s use of fairy-tale imagery and metaphor, even for the least imaginative of the characters, is a deliberate rendering of the human potential in the most utilitarian of people. Mr. Gradgrind’s head must burst open eventually, however much he may try to contain and order it.

6. How does Charles Dickens make the character of Sissy Jupe a significant one in Hard Times?

Sissy, the nickname of Cecilia, Jupe is a child during much of the action in Hard Times. In many ways, Sissy embodies the novel’s title-the difficulties that England’s poor must endure. Charles Dickens to some extent keeps Sissy as the stereotype of the cheerful, persevering youngster who triumphs over adversity. The author also endows her with enough specific characteristics to make her a unique, memorable character.

In a world where family name and connections largely determine one’s status, Sissy is at a distinct disadvantage; her mother is dead, and her sole remaining parent seemingly abandons her. She is an unofficial foster child of the Gradgrinds, rather than their adopted daughter . The way that both Gradgrind and Bounderby treat her is hypocrisy. Although Gradgrind initially welcomes her into his home and school, when she finds the methods challenging, he removes her from school rather than educate her further . 


Dickens uses Sissy to emphasize that the essential goodness in people treated badly. This sentimental approach to life is also responsible for her difficulties in classroom learning, Dickens reveals this in her conversation with Louisa (Chapter 9) about the impact of economy and events on real people. Sissy not only retains her faith in human nature but also remains loyal to her father , believing he will return. Over the years, this loyalty extends to the Gradgrinds-not only Louisa, who is clearly worthy, but to Tom, who behaves disgracefully. By keeping Sissy active throughout the novel, Dickens employs her as a foſt whose good instincts and behavior offering a contrasting reflection to the negative others.



7. What happens in the final chapter of Hard Times?

The final chapter serves as an epilogue revealing what happens to characters in the long run. Even though the events within the preceding chapters are filled with suffering and hardship for most of the characters, their lives over the next few years indicate a sense of some larger justice being served, more or less. Mrs. Sparsit’s malice and spying are rewarded with her spending the rest of her days quarreling with Lady Scadgers, who likely looks down on Mrs. Sparsit in the same way Mrs. Sparsit looks down on Louisa. Mr. Bounderby endures the embarrassment of the true story of his life coming suddenly in the street—which implies his anger actually kills him. does, but his dedication each of the main out and dies Mr. Gradgrind loses some of his status just as Mr. Bounderby to higher ideals rather than mere facts implies the change his outlook may bring him greater contentment and happiness. Tom’s fate may be the most appropriate, given the actions of his life. His escape from England implied he would never face justice for robbing the bank and framing Stephen Blackpool. Tom’s reaction to his family’s efforts to save him was more sullen resentment. His time abroad gives him perspective and a desire to reconcile with his sister. That he is ultimately unsuccessful in this attempt to reconcile shows how some mistakes can’t be undone and drives home the importance of appreciating is time.

Sissy, a girl who lost her family at age seven, is rewarded for her goodness, courage, and perseverance with a family of her own. Only Rachael reaps no specific punishment or reward for her actions. Her daily life remains roughly the same but without Stephen. Yet she does not allow his death to change or embitter her. She continues to do good and keeps his memory alive by showing compassion to his former wife because Coketown needs all the compassion it can get, the midst of general deprivation of the time.

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8. “Thou art an Angel. Bless thee, bless thee!” – Bring out the significance.

More a symbol than a fully developed character, Rachael is often referred to as an angel by Stephen. Like Sissy Jupe, whom she later befriends, Rachael represents the qualities necessary to counteract the dehumanizing, morally corrupting effects of industrialization, She is compassionate, honest, generous, and faithful to Stephen, even when everyone else shuns him and considers him a thief. As this remark illustrates, Rachael also draws out Stephen’s good qualities, making him realize that joy can be found even in the moral darkness of Coketown. Rachael and Sissy are both socially marginal characters–the former is a Hand, and the latter is the daughter of a circus entertainer. Likewise, they are both relatively minor characters in the novel. Through their marginal status, Dickens implies that the self-serving rationalism that dominates Coketown threatens to exclude the morally pure people who are necessary to save society from complete corruption.

9. What is Dickens’s message about love, as shown through the characters fates at the end of the novel Hard Times and Dickens’s direct address to the reader?

The answer to this question is subjective. Fantastic discussions can be created about what Dickens is trying to show about love and marriage through the various characters and their relationships in this book. To make things more complicated, Dickens was in the process of leaving his wife for a much younger woman; therefore, it has to be considered that he was letting his own relationships influence his writing.

A reader might be able to claim that Dickens is trying to show readers that marrying someone for purely financial reasons and/or the likelihood of statistical success is ludicrous. He shows readers this through Louisa and Bounderby; however, Stephen’s marriage to his alcoholic wife is also shown to be a miserable agreement. The novel could be saying that marrying for love is a bad idea while at the same time saying that a marriage without love is an equally bad idea. A balance is needed. a

The novel could also be saying something about love and divorce. Both Louisa and Stephen are falling in love with other people, yet they are not allowed to pursue those relationships because divorce is essentially impossible. It is possible to think that Dickens might be encouraging readers to always follow the path of love. When love runs out, get a divorce and move on to the next loving romance. Knowing that he was doing this with his personal life lends support to this notion.


Dickens is rightly regarded as a crusader against injustice; all his novels are concerned with one or more of the defects of society as a whole or of the individual human being. ‘Hard Times’ is a case in point. There is a formidable list of points raised in this novel to suggest that Dickens is attacking various aspects of society or the attitudes of individual human beings to particular groups of their fellow men.

In his opening chapters, there is a clear criticism of the educational system that encourages or permits little children to be treated as receptacles for Facts poured into their heads and forbids or discourages the exercise of their imagination. He refers to the children as ‘little vessels’ ready to have gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. With this, he associates the process of depersonalisation that is carried into the factory. At school Sissy Jupe ceases to be a person; she becomes ‘Girl Number Twenty in the factory, Stephen Blackpool, like his co-workers, is merely one of the depersonalised Hands in the confrontation between him and Bounderby in the chapter ‘Men and Masters, Dickens puts words into Stephen’s mouth that show that the greatest grievance of the working class is that the employers look on them as so much power and treat them as figures in a sum, without feelings or souls. Dickens makes the point himself when he shows that even Louisa when she visits Stephen to offer him help, realises that she has never thought of the working class as individuals, but by hundreds and by thousands – as ants and beetles.

Dickens, however, may not be attacking merely the upper middle class attitude of people to their fellow men. M’Choakumchild and Bounderby may not be upholding a system, but may be merely indifferent to the children and the workers – or perhaps being merely selfish: ignorant workers are less likely to be troublesome than educated ones. To support the argument that Dickens is attacking the attitude of individuals to their fellow men, Dickens has created Slackbridge, the Trade Unionist who is painted as a rather dangerous demagogue who attacks the oppressors of the working class while himself hounding one of his fellow workers. Dickens’s intentions are clear: he condemns Slackbridge by his description of him; he is less honest, less manly, less good-humoured than the workers he addresses. He is cunning rather than simple, and his words are ‘froth and fume! In his condemnation of Stephen as a thief, he places himself alongside Bounderby who, like him, finds Stephen guilty without evidence or without trial.

Dickens also attacks theoretical political economy, (or the economic system self-interest). He ironically points out the inhuman aspect of the theory of political economy through Sissy who considers the first principle of this science to be ‘to do unto others as I would that they should do unto me, and who cannot say whether a nation is prosperous or not until she knows who gets the money. Statistics, to her, are ‘stutterings’ and percentages cannot be applied to people. (There are often echoes of this in our day: the ideal family is said to consist of 2.4 children!) To support her, Dickens shows the Circus people as a closely-knit, interdependent people who, besides relying on one another in the Ring, have an untiring readiness to help and pity one another. They are outside the Utilitarian system and are a living criticism of it. 

It is clear therefore that Dickens carries the crusader’s to say that this aspect of his work outdoes his importance as a novelist. (You are free to argue otherwise if you wish.) He was not just a reformer or a sentimentalist. His genius lay in his ability to create a world. He tells a story peopled by characters – good and bad. The good ones, like Sissy and Rachael, may not be totally acceptable to modern readers because the cynical twentieth-century cannot accept a human being who never has an impulse to be ungenerous; the bad ones are nasty and always acceptable. Dickens, with his brilliant use of imagery, makes them real: Bounderby, the Bully of Humility, the bag of wind who is deflated (temporarily) by the revelation of his real origins; Harthouse, with his vicious assumption of honesty in dishonesty who is finally overcome by one whose only weapons are virtue and a complete lack of sophistication. characters. Louisa and Tom are victims of a banner.

In between these are the more credible educational system. Our reactions are perhaps of pity rather than rage stifling and cruel at the system. Bitzer, too, evolves from it; he is a victim rather than a villain. He rejeds Gradgrind’s bribe to free Tom, not because he is heartless or cruel, but that he is the serfect product of his education. The test of the success of the novel is the reader’s response to the characters depicted. So, if one rages at Bounderby and Mrs Sparsit and gloats over their exposure; if one is pleased that the Circus Folk, who are natural enemies of the utilitarian system, overcome Bitzer; if one suffers with Louisa and hopes that Gradgrind will mellow, then the novel is, for that reader, a novel, not an attack on a political system.

Even though he laughs ‘with a touch of anger in his laughter Dickens makes us laugh at the boy who would not paper a room with representations because he would not paper a room at all, he would paint it. We laugh at the Circus Folk and the idiocy of Mrs Gradgrind. Such things are above and beyond a social documentary. Perhaps if he seems to over-emphasise certain points by repetition e.g. ‘No little Gradgrind… it is primarily to elicit sympathy for his good characters or to make us condemn his villains. He may be over-anxious to point to the flaws in society as he is when he interpolates his own views directly, but he reflects his own age, his own life and his own thinking. 

11. What is the relationship between Louisa and Tom in Hard Times?

In Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times, Louisa and Tom Gradgrind are sister and brother. The two siblings have very different responses to their difficult upbringing at the hands of Thomas Gradgrind Sr. and the passive, depressed Mrs. Gradgrind, their mother. Louisa reacts to their unhappy home life by losing touch with her feelings. In one of the novel’s most famous lines, we indirectly get a picture of the muffled, stifled quality of Louisa’s emotional life through her comment on an industrial scene:

There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, fire bursts out.

In contrast to Louisa, Tom responds to their cold, chilly home environment by drowning his sorrows in a futile search for pleasure and distraction. Unfortunately, Tom and Louisa are unable to draw comfort from one another. Dickens’s portrayal of the Gradgrind family’s relationships reflects his sense that the philosophy of utilitarianism (to which Gradgrind Sr. adheres) has profoundly damaging effects on familial relationships, as well as individual prospects for happiness.


13. How does Dickens paint the picture of utilitarianism through his novel Hard Times?

Interestingly, I think the theme of utilitarianism that you have highlighted is very closely linked to the theme of the mechanisation of the human soul, that is discussed at length through the action of the novel. One of the key arguments as expressed in this fascinating text is that the initiation of industrialisation is converting people into machines by preventing the natural progression and development of their imagination and emotions. This is modelled most clearly in the characters of Gradgrind and Bounderby. Gradgrind (I love this name for a teacher!) teaches to strict principles, allowing nothing other than facts to enter his classroom. Bounderby likewise is shown to manipulate and consider his workers in the factory as mere objects without emotion. The factory workers and the children of Gradgrind are actually compared and both are shown to lead lives that are emotion-free and very boring and drab.

This mechanisation of the human soul is exacerbated by the philosophy of utilitarianism adopted by Gradgrind. A key cornerstone of his approach is that human nature is treated like a science – it can be assessed, measured and evaluated as if it were something following a strict set or system of rules. One could summarise his educational philosophy by converting his pupils into bits of a machine that obey rules and do their job without question. Throughout the novel, the danger of such an approach is stressed, focussing on the debasing effect on our lives if such a philosophy is adopted wholesale. Louisa is the example of this outcome – she marries someone she doesn’t love and in her adulthood goes to her father protesting that know she has fallen in love with someone who is not her husband. She has realised the shortcomings of her upbringing, and is able to persuade her father likewise. Utilitarianism, it is shown, has its definite drawbacks.

14. How far both the terms ‘mechanical’ and ‘natural’ play significant role in the novel Hard Times?


In Hard Times mechanical time is contrasted by natural time and these together makes it possible for us to experience the mood of time through two levels. The environmental mechanization of time is the first level of mechanization and is mainly due to the heavily industrialized setting which Coketown provides. Since industrialization is a mai made revolution it contrasts with the more ‘natural and ever-changing seasons of the year and the fact that the sun is rising and setting every day. The travelling circus which visits Coketown e.g., though being a man-made company, also acts as a counterweight to the dominating industries in the city. The second level of mechanization in the novel is the characters.

Helpfulness, merely for the sake of helping others, indicate a different way of conceiving time and fellow-beings, and understanding life as well, from the characters that possess a more mechanical mind. One critic expresses the two kinds of characters (‘mechanical and ‘natural) figuring in Dickens’ novels in the following way: […] Dickens’ characters belong to two classes – people who have feelings and emotions, and people who have none. He contrasts the souls which nature creates with those which society deforms (Taine, 355). The characters possessing a ‘mechanical mentality are restrained in their ‘natural’ disposition and do not hold the previously mentioned qualities. Since the characters experience time differently, which will be illustrated in “The Study”, they also regard life in different ways; a mechanical appreciation of time leads to ‘mechanical values whereas a natural appreciation of time leads to ‘natural values. It is through our concept of time we view our lives, since it is through time (from birth to death) we live it. Then, to render an understanding possible of how mechanical and natural perceptions and descriptions represent time in Hard Times we must look at the characters’ mechanisation in the novel. The mechanical aspects of some characters show their value of time and constitute both the mechanical time perception in the novel as well as contrasts with the more ‘natural’ values and attitudes towards life by other characters. The natural qualities are subordinate and surrounded by a repressing world created by Dickens; a world named Coketown and in a time of hardness.

15. Is “Hard Times” a satire of industrial society?

Yes, the novel is a satire of industrial society. More importantly, perhaps, it is a satire of the values on which industrial society is based. The sort of values which Dickens is satirizing is best summed up in Josiah Bounderby’s phrase “the Good Samaritan was a bad economist”. Bounderby is a parody, of sorts, of Utilitarian values—i.e. measuring the worth of something according to its usefulness while disregarding sentimentality entirely—but the novel also demonstrates that utilitarian principles are, in some ways, contagious and cause great pain to all who emulate them. Hence, the story’s protagonist, Louisa, marries Bounderby for the sake of her brother even though she does not love Bounderby; this leads to a marriage which inevitably fails and succeeds in revealing the weakness of Utilitarian values to Mr. Gradgrind, Louisa’s father. The only character who ends up truly happy in the novel is Cissy Jupe who (in the first chapter) demonstrates that she is ready to confront the Mr. Gradgrind’s trite philosophy. To summarize, the novel is more than a satire of industrial society; is a satire of the industrial culture that creates that society.

16. In Hard Times, what is the message about the biblical allusion in Book II Chapter 12, entitled “Down”?

The allusion referred to comes in the final chapter of Book II in this excellent novel, where Mr Gradgrind is presented as working in his study, writing some kind of report. The allusion here is to a parable that Jesus told in The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, where a Samaritan gives money to help a man who is set upon by robbers and left for dead. The Samaritan cares for this stranger, who also, as an Israelite, is the racial enemy of his people. This allusion is used by Dickens to further our understanding of Mr. Gradgrind and his philosophy on life. To him, it was sheer idiocy that the Samaritan should give his own money to help somebody who was not just a stranger to him, but alsoa national enemy.

This is because Mr. Gradgrind is uncapable (at this stage of the novel) of understanding the Christian principles of love, self-sacrifice and giving from your own riches to help another person. These characteristics make no sense to him, as they belong to the realm of “fancy and not the hard, statistical world of facts where he dwells. The allusion therefore operates as yet another reminder of the philosophy of Mr. Gradgrind and how those around him suffer as a result.

17. What do you know about Coketown?

Hard Times takes place in Coketown, which is a fictional town of 19th century England The word coke refers to the treated coal that was used to power the factories, Coketown is a town of industrial pollution, and is described as follows in Book the First: “It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage* (28). In England the dehumanizing industrial factories were mostly in the middle and northern part of England, where the poor suffered nearly unbelievable conditions. The factory workers were treated like animals, they got just enough wages so they could keep themselves alive, and their working hours were stretched to the extremes. This fact is described in Hard Times: “The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels” (148). Coketown is like a jail: “It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next” (28). This is a description of the devastating life of the Coketowners, which certainly lacks diversity and fancy. The key statement of Hard Times that the workers are “equally like one another” is generated by the same reportorial assumption. The novel contains metaphors that describe Coketown. The people, Dickens assumes, must be alike because they live in streets that are alike. Here metonymy functions with the linguistic invisibility of dead metaphor; “in fact, it might be called dead metonymy” (Spector, 373). By observing their appearance and environment, the characters in the novel have similar resemblance to the inside and outside of 5 their background, and it finds embodiment in their dialect. It is called metonymic character creation, which can be described as when Gradgrind is “A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations … It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic” (3). Gradgrind emphasises it with his “square finger, moving here and there” (5); Stephen Blackpool, a factory worker in Coketown, speaks in Lancashire dialect, which is presented in the novel; Bounderby owns a bank and a factory, arrogant and windy, he has a metallic laugh, his hair is in disorder and his stubbornness all things is dominating. This reveals that this is a fact of the resemblance of the inside outside.


18. What went  wrong with Louisa in Hard Times?


The chapter that you need to focus on is Chapter Twelve of Book the Second, entitled “Down.” It is in this Chapter that Louisa, having said to James Harthouse that she will run away with him, runs instead to her father and, using very harsh words that cannot be misinterpreted, curses the way she was brought up and blames it for the emotional confusion she is experiencing at this stage of her life. Note what she declares to her father about James Harthouse and her relationship with him, and how she comments upon her upbringing:

*This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring himself my lover. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!”

Thus it is that Louisa’s breakdown comes as a result of recognising the complete inability of a fact-based upbringing to save her from a situation which has arisen in her feelings that she does not know how to handle because she never was aware that she had those feelings in the first place. The facts of her father have resulted in her emotional stunting in her adulthood, and the attentions of James Harthouse have exploited this.

19. “Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, an’ wi’ what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin’, and how they never works us no nigher to onny distant object-‘ceptin awlus Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi’ your deputations to Secretaries o’ State ’bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had’n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha’ growen an’ growen sir, bigger an’ bigger, broader an’ broader, harder an’ harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation. Who can look on’t sir, and fairly tell a man ’tis not a muddle?” – Explain.

Stephen Blackpool’s speech to Bounderby, from Book the Second, Chapter 5, is one of the few glimpses that we receive into the lives of the Hands. His long sentences and repetition of words such as “an”” and “Look” mimic the monotony of the workers’ lives. Similarly, Stephen’s dialect illustrates his lack of education and contrasts with the proper English spoken by the middle-class characters and by the narrator. In spite of his lack of formal education, however, Stephen possesses greater insight about the relationship between employer and employee than does Bounderby. Stephen notes that “yo” (the factory owners and employers) and “us” (the Hands) are constantly opposed, but that the Hands stand no chance in the contest because the employers possess all the wealth and power. However, he does not blame the employers solely for the suffering of the poor, concluding instead that the situation is a “muddle” and that it is difficult to determine who is responsible for society’s ills . Stephen also suggests that the monotony of factory labor seems futile to the Hands, who need to strive for some larger goal in order to make the endless round of production seem worthwhile. The “distant object” or larger goal that he mentions here is later symbolized by the bright star on which he gazes while trapped at the bottom of the mine shaft.

20. What is the significance of Blackpool’s name in Hard Times?

Stephen Blackpool’s name is significant in the story “Hard Times” because he is a man who does not seem to get out of falling victim of the muck of society, even though he is a good man. He was a displaced worker who only wanted to work to be able to make his own living. Conditions were horrid in England at the time that industrialization was on the advent, hence, the word around was bleak, dark, and dirty not only in the atmosphere of it all, but in the attitudes of people.

To top his misery, he was accused of a robbery that he would have never and his name was soiled in the city until the day of his acquittal.


In addition to this, Blackpool is also the name of a sister city of Liverpool, which was given the name of Blackpool for its industrial, darkened surroundings. Therefore, he is also surrounded by polluted people and by the mentality that arises as a result of the survival of the fittest that occurs in a society whose lower classes are feeling the crunch of an unfair economy that only benefits the rich and the upper-middle classes.



Bounderby is the quintessential ‘self-made man’. He is inflated like a balloon wind. He is the villain of the novel. Dickens ensures that we abhor this ‘Bully of Humility’ . He is physically repellent and he has an obnoxious manner. His ‘humility’ is false. He is a liar. He exploits his employees. To him they are mere ‘Hands’. His attitude to Stephen is disgraceful when he asks for advice on getting a divorce and later he tries to exploit him further. When Stephen refuses to cooperate he is sacked and when money is stolen from his bank he accuses Stephen and puts a price on his head. 

Bounderby, the industrialist, is indeed a monster. He is aided and abetted by his friend Thomas Gradgrind MP Dickens savagely attacks this attitude which puts profit before all other considerations. Indeed it can be said that both these men have much in common. They are intimate friends and desire to be closer through the marriage of Louisa to Bounderby. They are both pompous, self-opinionated and insensitive to the feelings of others. Gradgrind worries about Bounderby’s disapproval, ‘What would Mr. Bounderby say?’ However, there are also serious differences between these two men. Foremost among these is the fact that Gradgrind is not a hypocrite. He does act in good faith. He thinks that Thomas and Louisa are getting the best education.

Dickens ensures that Bounderby is caricatured as a comical ‘Mr. is cruelly exposed at the end of the novel. He behaves very badly in Book III when Gradgrind is confronted. He is seen to be crude and intolerant. He acts the Bully to the end whereas Gradgrind is patient, submissive and humble. Bounderby’s end is ignominious he makes a vainglorious will, he dies in a fit, and his estate is whittled away by the courts. He has no redeeming qualities. of utilitarianism and he indeed to believe Pickwick’.

He puts his faith in statistics and in the enlightened selfinterest proposed by the evangelists of Utilitarianism – Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. (Two of his sons are called Adam and Thomas!) He is shown to be a man of ‘realities, of fact and calculations’ . We first see him in the Model School. His aim is to prepare his pupils for a mechanical world – his graduates are robotic creatures devoid of sympathy , love or imagination. He raises his five children (two daughters and three sons) by these rigid principles. They grow up on a diet of ‘-ologies’. He becomes a leading MP in the party of weights and measures’ – one of the Hard Fact men. He is an ’eminently practical man’.

However, he is not all bad – he has virtues such as courage, honesty and charity. He takes in Sissy despite Bounderby’s protestations. He is forced to admit the failure of his system with Louisa and Tom. By the end of the novel, his world, so carefully built, is collapsing around him. He is pained by Louisa especially since he agreed to the marriage and he proved by statistics how successful it should be. Ironically, he is the one who introduces Harthouse to Louisa and Bounderby, thereby destroying the marriage he had done so much to promote.

…. Gradgrind, therefore, unlike Bounderby is capable of change and development. He is forced to face unwelcome facts (!). He is no longer certain. He is a humbled man: The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet. The only support on which I leaned has given way in an instant. The Gradgrind we see in Book III is hardly recognisable. He has abandoned his philosophy of facts and becomes a caring father to his children. This change comes and he is saved when Stephen dies and he realises that Tom is the bank robber. He seeks help from Sleary. He pleads emotionally with Bitzer to have ‘mercy and pity’. He acts to clear Stephen’s name. He realises that Sissy – the great ‘failure’ of his system – is now indispensable to his household. His younger children will be spared the worst effects of his system. (Isn’t this always the case?!!). Dickens is at pains to show how disastrous this system is but he is also at pains to point out that Gradgrind and the other promoters of the system were not evil – they were often caring and well-intentioned, even. At the end – in the future we see him ‘converted as he makes his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity. –

Gradgrind, now, unlike Bounderby, is a much sadder, wiser man. He now knows the meaning of love. He realises that there is a ‘Wisdom of the Heart’ as well as a ‘Wisdom of the Head’. He benefits in the end from a form of ‘poetic irony’ in that his early isolated act of kindness to Sissy proves to be the means of his redemption. He has changed for the better while poor Bounderby, our other monster, is cruelly depicted as a ‘Noodle.

22. What do Sissy Jupe and the circus bring to Hard Times?

Sissy Jupe and the circus provide a welcome, colorful contrast to the grim utilitarian world of Victorian capitalism. Their world is not the world of cold, hard facts and logic; it’s the world of the imagination, a world which has as much claim to provide knowledge as the empirical realm in which Mr. Gradgrind resides. At a time when utilitarianism and empiricism dominated intellectual life, Dickens is making an eloquent plea that there’s still a place for the imagination in Victorian Britain, even among the dark mills of Coketown. To be sure, Dickens is not denigrating empirical or scientific knowledge; he’s simply stating that it isn’t sufficient. Knowledge cannot always be neatly encapsulated in precise definitions, by propositional logic. As well as deriving from the Imagination, it can also arise from practical experience; we learn from engaging with the world around us. Sissy Jupe know more about horses than Mr. Gradgrind will ever know even though she can’t define exactly what they are. She and the other people from the circus remind us of what it means to be human; that we are not just rational calculating machines, that we have needs and desires that cannot be satisfied by a system of unfettered industrial capitalism and the narrow, unimaginative educational theories it generates.

23. Hard Times is a novel about the social condition of poverty, but very few of its major characters are actually poor and comparatively little time is spent with the poor characters. With that in mind, do you think the book does an effective job of shaping our view of poverty? Why or why not?

It may be that Dickens chose to center his novel on the wealthy -middle then on the lower classes he sought to defend because he realized that most of his Victorian readers would come from the middle classes and that very few of his readers would come from the lower classes. By centering his book on characters with whom his readers could identity, he was better able to awaken their feelings for characters with whom they might otherwise be unable to identify-namely, the poor of Coketown and of England in general. In that sense, the book does its job. Of course, the contrary argument could also be made that the novel simply reinforces comfortable middle-class stereotypes about the noble poor, and it offers no real solution or possibility for change.


24. In Hard Times, what hope does Dickens give concerning Gradgrind?

It is dear that by the end of the novel we see that Gradgrind has undergone a 180 degree turn in terms of his beliefs and philosophy. Having discovered that emotions are important and that facts are not the most important thing in the world, Dickens gives us hope for the future of this character as he is left to consider his mistakes in the way he brought up Tom and Louisa and the difficulties and challenges that they face as a result. Note the mention that is made of Gradgrind in the last chapter, which discusses the endings that various characters face:

Did he see himself, a white-haired decrepit man, bending his hitherto to appointed circumstances; making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity; and no longer trying to grind that Heavenly trio in his dusty little mills?

The change is clear. His “hitherto inflexible theories” are now bending and his “facts and figures,” that once held such sway in his life, are now “Subservient” higher and more noble emotions. He has obviously learnt the limitations of trusting in facts alone, and although we are told that this change in character has resulted in his facing scorn from his former political friends, we are assured that he is a happier man as a result.


26. What is the significance of the staircase in the novel Hard Times?

In chapter 20, Mrs. Sparsit is presented as having been at Mr. Bounderby’s house for several weeks. When her stay ends, she will lose her free lodgings and ability to interfere in his life. Mrs. Sparsit, previously disappointed when Bounderby married the much younger Louisa, cannot approve of her. A severe, unpleasant woman, Sparsit is pleased to see that Louisa has apparently become involved with Mr. Harthouse.

The staircase is a metaphor for Louisa’s desired ruin. Mrs. Sparsít imagines a physical counterpart for the younger woman’s downfall. She imagines her inexorable descent. Every day, the mental vision of Louisa’s imminent ruin entertains her.

Now, Mrs. Sparsit was not a poetical woman; but she took an idea in the nature of an allegorical fancy, into her head … She erected in her mind a mighty Staircase, with a dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom; and down those stairs, from day to day and hour to hour, she saw Louisa coming.

Dickens emphasizes Mrs. Sparsit’s limited creativity by having her think up a completely obvious symbol. He also emphasizes her malicious nature through showing her enjoyment in repeatedly contemplating the idea of another person’s failure.

27. How would you define Mr. Gradgrind as a tragic figure in Hard Times by Charles Dickens?

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens presents the sad, exaggerated Utilitarian philosophy of Thomas Gradgrind as a sort of tragedy. More specifically, Dickens examines how Gradgrind’s staunch pedagogical approach negatively affects his children, especially Louisa. Gradgrind is initially shown as a strict, Utilitarian caricature who emphasizes facts and rote memorization over imagination and critical thinking. Dickens opens chapter two by detailing Gradgrind’s unfortunate personality:

realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over…. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to”.

“A man of affects his children and they have a hard time overcoming their father’s prescriptive values. Indeed, when Louisa seeks his advice on marrying the loathsome Bounderby, Gradgrind boils the situation down to statistics and facts rather than taking an empathetic stance on the subject.

His strict nature relationship. It is only at this point that Gradgrind realizes the error in his ways, and in tum grows as a human being.

While Gradgrind does transform, it is only after his daughter is forever affected by his teachings. This is why Gradgrind is a tragic character: he realizes the narrow scope of his Utilitarian values only after his daughter is ensnared in a poisonous relationship.

28. Think about the character of Bounderby. How might this character fit with Dickens’s social program to explode the myth of the self-made man?

One defense of the new economic conditions created by the Industrial Revolution was its expansion of individual opportunity. The wealthy could justify the condition of the poor by pointing out that if the poor worked industriously, they could work their way into a fortune. Dickens implicitly mocks that idea by presenting one such supposed self-made man as a blundering braggart. By exposing Bounderby as a fraud who did not actually start from nothing, as he so often claims, Dickens questions the validity of that entire justification for poverty. If the self-made man is a lie, then what can the poor hope to achieve? Moreover, Dickens raises the question of whether the self-made man owes anything to the rest of society. Are the wealthy under any obligation to help the poor? Or must the poor help themselves?

29. In “Hard Times”, what is the cause of Louisa’s combined state of apathetic depression?

I think that there can be many reasons to attribute to Louisa’s condition at the end of Dickens’ work. I am inclined to place much of the blame for her condition at her father’s feet. Gradgrind’s teaching and rearing of Louisa was full of calculation and “fact, not fancy” that there was nothing significant in terms of emotional or sentimental education left over. The bizarre utilitarian philosophy of Gradgrind compelled him to educate Louisa in such a way whereby there was nothing in terms of emotions fostered or affect nurtured. In this, her arranged marriage was done in terms of facilitating not a marriage between two people, but a business alliance. Her devotion to her brother, the other victim of Gradgrind, compels her to undertake a disaster such as marrying a man so much her senior without any semblance of love or emotion present, a move that helps to cause her to lose any passion for living or love of life:…her (Louisa) rearing has left her so lacking in any genuine feeling (apart, that is, from her passionate devotion to her brother), that she doesn’t care what becomes of her.

In the end, her father has to be the cause of such a condition because to teach her the role that emotions play as one progresses through life and consciousness in the world. It is because of this that the ending of the novel finds her engaging in philanthropic endeavors, hoping to bring some light and joy to those who endure suffering and pain, not so different than what she went through as a child.


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